SE1 art

Bermondsey, where communities collaborate and galleries thrive by Chloe Hodge

with the monolithic Tate Modern marking its centre, Southwark is one of London’s artistic hubs. Travel from the the packed out pavements of Southbank to Bermondsey Street and discover a quieter yet multi-layered art scene led, in part, by VITRINE gallery.

Alys Williams – artist turned curator turned gallerist – started the business three years ago with an exhibition space in Bermondsey Square, annually hosting seven exhibitions and countless free evening events which often spill out into the outside courtyard, Shortwave Cinema and its bar.

As countless creative types gather for their public events, VITRINE has expanded: in 2012 beginning a commercial gallery on Bermondsey Street, and this October moving into the airy ground floor space below. Emerging artist Claire Kenny will open the new gallery with a solo show during London’s Frieze week, bringing international collectors into the very centre of Bermondsey.

With Bermondsey’s arts scene simmering away, it was only inevitable that an art world giant would step in to bring things to the boil. Jay Joplin’s infamous White Cube put Bermondsey Street on the art world map in January 2011; Alys stating that “now if you’re at an art fair in New York, you can say that your gallery is on Bermondsey Street and they’ll know where you mean.’”

Despite this growing celebrity, Bermondsey’s art scene is actually becoming increasingly inclusive through projects such as The Shared, a wittily-titled sculpture collaboration between the community and artist Austin Emery.


Last October, Austin invited locals to carve into pieces of salvaged stone; this left him with hundreds of unique artworks which he has spent the past year piecing together, forming a vast sculpture to become the focal point of the Tyres Estate community garden, brightening up its current concrete landscape.

The grand unveiling of The Shared will take place next spring, yet Austin is already embarking upon another project: this October, each weekend from 11am-4pm, locals are invited to Whites Grounds Estate to try their hand at sculpting.

In fact, Autumn in Bermondsey will be brimming with artistic events; in addition to the opening of its new space, VITRINE will also occupy Shortwave Cinema for the Art Licks Weekend with a screening of ‘Hatchepsut’s Handbag’: films from six female artists, humorously commenting on gender, the occult, history and relationships, curated by John Waters – who visitors can meet afterwards for an enlightening chat in Shortwave’s cosy bar.
Tate and White Cube may currently be the fine art beacons of Southwark, but this could soon change as Bermondsey’s thriving artistic community makes its mark upon the SE1 landscape.


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